Bigger and better?
The Porte de Versailles expo center in Paris hosted the 30th annual Retromobile show. Compared to our last visit, for the 2004 Paris Motorshow in September, a lot of improvements were made to better the accessibility on the vast grounds. This would have been of no consequence for Retromobile, if it would not have moved to a bigger hall on the grounds. We were kind of worried when we saw the traditional 'Hall 2' empty, but we were quickly directed to the correct hall on the other side of the 'peripherique.' Hall 7 offered quite a bit more space for the exhibitors and visitors, which helped to display the cars more spaciously. Fortunately none of Retromobile's characteristic quality over quantity feel was lost.
Prototypes of yesterday, automobiles of tomorrow
The main theme of this year's event was 'Prototypes of yesterday, automobiles of tomorrow.' A collection of eight 'avant-garde' concept cars of the late 1940s and 1950s were on display, which all incorporated ground breaking novelties for their time. Panhard's Dynavia is a very advanced study in aerodynamics, which was capable of topspeeds of well over 100 km/h despite being powered by a 28 hp engine. Renault debuted the 4CV derived 108 Concept for the first time after a thorough restoration. Alternative methods of propulsion were represented by the stunning SOCEMA turbine car, which originally made its debut at the 1952 Paris motorshow. It was all in the numbers for the two Mathis concepts; the 333 featured three wheels, seated three people and had a fuel consumption of three litres per 100 km, and the 666 featured a six speed gearbox, was powered by a flat six engine and offered enough space for six passengers.
One of France's biggest automotive icons, the Citroen DS, took centre stage, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its launch in Paris. A large number of different variants were on display, ranging from one of the very first production cars to a race prepared Group V short wheelbase DS. Wandering around the stand it was still hard to imagine how the crowds in the 1950s must have responded to such a futuristic design. Particularly interesting were a number of prototype engines on display, that never made it into the DS. These included a host of six cylinder units and even a V8.
Alfa Romeo's stunning museum traditionally offers one car to the French Alfa Romeo Club to display, but to celebrate Retromobile's thirtieth anniversary a second car was supplied; both cars were styling exercises. One of the most remarkable post-War Alfa Romeos is the Tipo 33, which served as a successful racing car, a gorgeous road car and as a base for some of the wildest concept cars. Pininfarina's striking yellow variation was on display and shared a lot of lines with contemporary Ferraris. The other prototype on the stand was the much acclaimed Nuvola, launched in Paris in 1996. After its show appearances it took a prominent position in Alfa Romeo's 'Centro Stile' to inspire the designers of the production. This appearance at Retromobile was a very rare one.
Just around the corner from Alfa Romeo was the Lancia club, which hosted one of our personal favorites of the show; the Lancia D50 racer. Designed by Vittorio Jano, the D50 was one of the most advanced Formula 1 racers of its era. It was very unfortunate that Lancia could not continue to finance the racing effort and were forced to sell the design to Ferrari. Eventually Ferrari used a slightly modified D50 to secure the 1956 driver's World Championship.
An integral part of the Retromobile show are the displays of the classic car dealerships, who always bring the very best of their stock. Germany's Axel Schuette had the nicest cars on display this year, highlighted by a stunning Figoni bodied Voisin C24, one of just five Voisins clothed by the French master. While many enthusiasts believed this car to be lost, the owner used it regularly and even drove it from France to Sweden for a holiday. Today it is still in stunningly original condition.
Auctioneer Bonham's planned on holding their first ever auction in France, at the Winter Circus in downtown Paris, the first Sunday of the show. Unfortunately, they had to cancel the auction because of 'Force Majeur' as Bonham's Simon Kidston put it. Covered up and packed in cardboard, the auctioneer did display the car that will be the star car of the Goodwood Festival of Speed auction in July. The tension among the gathered journalists was almost comparable to a modern motorshow seconds before the wraps were taken of the Bugatti Type 59 Grand Prix car. It will be the first time this rare racer will be offered in 55 years and is expected to be a very hard fought over lot.
As a result of the increased space available, Christie's display of cars on auction grew as well, offering more room per car. Highlighting the auction were two Group C racers, which in the 1980s were each others biggest competitors; an ex-Works Porsche 956 and a Lancia LC2, both did not sell. after being offered and sold three years ago at the inaugural Christie's auction at Retromobile, the highly influential Maserati Boomerang made a return. The Giugiaro designed car was in a slightly better condition and found a new owner for just over $1 million US. Possibly even more stunning was the Vignale bodied OSCA MT4 1500, which not only is a one of a kind, but it is also in a stunning original condition. This type of condition is usually described as 'time warp' and adds greatly to the value. It was hammered down at just over $500,000 US. The total revenue of the auction including the automobilia was $2.766.559 US, with 78% of the lots sold.
This year Retromobile has proven that bigger can be better; the extra space made up for losing the familiarity of the old hall. Retromobile's success formula will be expanded to Germany in July, when the city of Dusseldorf will host the first ever Retromobile outside of Paris. Let's hope it will be worthy of the name Retromobile, which is synonymous today with quality. Although the best way to experience Retromobile is to visit the event, we tried to capture the atmosphere in a 100-shot slideshow